Taking your own life

Regular readers of this Blog will have noticed that I am definitely well aged. I was 73 when it started, and I am now 86. An old man. I am fortunate that, apart from difficulties of memory, I still seem to be fit. Moreover, I have children in the neighborhood and so, even in this difficult time, I am looked after exellently well. How long will this last? Two years? Five years? Ten years? All my children will have retired — and, indeed, being helped themselves by my fourteen grandchildren. To say nothing of a growing group of great grandchildren.


And so I am interested in the current political question of allowing the old, and perhaps sick, to take their own lives. Or, indeed, to materially assist such a person. (see the link below to a summary of the law). Some opponents of this change point out that, in the original debate on the legalisation of abortion, it was argued that it would only be in a few serious cases. The current rate of abortion for England and Wales is about 200,000, under the seven grounds permitted. (link below)


While I am confident that that my family will be faithful in their care right up to my natural death, I fear that I will feel guilty at taking so much, and, by then, contributing so little. How would you feel?

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/euthanasia-and-assisted-suicide/


https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/891405/abortion-statistics-commentary-2019.pdf

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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9 Responses to Taking your own life

  1. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/ ) :

    // While I am confident that that my family will be faithful in their care right up to my natural death, I fear that I will feel guilty at taking so much, and, by then, contributing so little. How would you feel? //

    Thank you, Quentin, for opening this thorny, timely, and important issue here. I hope the discussion will be free and fruitful.

    One initial thought of mine is that in following their accustomed activity of instinctively pursuing material progress, technologists have pretty much obliged humans to live unnaturally long, and that when they discovered that this was widely perceived as an undesirable consequence of an otherwise unquestioned good, they have offered what must seem to them an acceptable fix. The goal was technological, the achievement was technological, and their fix is technological.

    Technology is Pandora’s Box. Humans apparently cannot resist opening it, and once it’s open, they apparently cannot resist its power to control their lives.

    Should I have the good fortune to live among humane and caring people as I age, I hope they will not conspire to have me murdered.

  2. David Smith says:

    Oh, guilt. No, I will feel guilt for living past my discard-after date only as all who age in this instrumentalist culture and society must feel it, since the blame is always there, in the air.

  3. galerimo says:

    Starting a blog at 73 is a great achievement, even with other, previous life achievements. I find it encouraging to read about such flourishing in later life.

    I think, a deep regard for the sacredness of human life is also a feature of eldering, and that’s not to say that such concern is confined to any single stage in life.

    The elders serve our community as gatekeepers in this way. They hold our shared values in a special way, even it it is not one that can be measured in terms of productivity or material contribution.

    Yes, voluntary assisted dying is moving, more and more, into legislation here too.

    Your point about becoming a burden on family is certainly valid as a consideration. My experience, however, is more heavily weighted on the other end of that scale.

    So often it is the family, the NOKs (Next of Kin) who want to prolong the life of their elderly relative, trying everything to keep them alive even when there can be no realistic prospects of recovery to any functional degree.

    It can be more about the emotional needs of the family. An elderly dying patient deserves to be treated in a way that recognises their time to die.

    Intensivists too, can become obsessed with keeping life going with the people are under their care with amazing drugs available to help them to do so.

    Intensive care of elderly patients who are at the end of their biological life can be very stressful and impose a burden on such patients.

    Perhaps our advances in end-of-life care, and I certainly am grateful for them, can sometimes be counterproductive.

    Life does have its boundaries too. And forcing a clinical survival, beyond what a reasonable person would consider appropriate, could also be seen as an act of abuse.

    So my feelings, are mixed. At least for now.

  4. David Smith says:

    galerimo writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63473 ) :

    // The elders serve our community as gatekeepers in this way. They hold our shared values in a special way, even it it is not one that can be measured in terms of productivity or material contribution. //

    With respect, galerimo, nonsense. There is no longer a shared “we”, just my group and yours, and the members of one barely speak civilly to the members of the other. The overwhelmingly dominant culture forced on everyone today – your culture – has zero use for yesterday. History is a waste, experience is useless, a burden and an obstacle. Everything of value is new, just out of the box. Well, I see that you do carefully concede this in your “even if” clause above.

    “The elderly” are human beings, children of God. *That* is why they matter.

    • galerimo says:

      “The elderly” are human beings, children of God. *That* is why they matter.”

      – sounds like a piece of wisdom consistent with any elder experience !

  5. Alan says:

    Someone asked me before about how/whether I valued life when the topic of wanting to be born regardless of the life to be led came up. I didn’t reply at the time because the answer became too long and yet still didn’t cover what I wanted to say. I will try again in brief.

    On the subject of abortion or euthanasia the issue of numbers seems to come up regularly. Intentionally or otherwise – “How many deaths does/might this lead to?” is often asked here in one form or another. Following a link someone posted in the past I came to a site that was calculating the number of manhours lost as a consequence of abortions. I don’t think this seemingly “Never mind the quality feel the width” perspective is the way I value life. Whoever asked me the question pointed out examples of people who enjoy life despite suffering what others might consider serious or overwhelming hardship. But these aren’t the only examples of how people value their own lives. I’ve known two people, one middle aged and one likely somewhat nearer the end of her natural life, that considered what their remaining years were liable to be like and decided they weren’t worth enduring. With more of a sense of life’s value being to do with the experience of it rather than the sacredness or volume of it, it isn’t apparent to me that the latter decision is the wrong one in all circumstances.

    I can’t know what another is actually thinking. I couldn’t be certain that someone didn’t mistakenly feel like they were a burden and that this might unreasonably sway their view. Nor could I be sure that there were sufficient safeguards in place to prevent the abuse of any system. These are just a couple of things that make it difficult to be entirely comfortable with the idea of euthanasia but, with some small amount of experience, there doesn’t look to be a comfortable option.

  6. David Smith says:

    Alan writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63482 ) :

    // Following a link someone posted in the past I came to a site that was calculating the number of manhours lost as a consequence of abortions. I don’t think this seemingly “Never mind the quality feel the width” perspective is the way I value life. //

    Nor I. Yet this seems to be the standard acceptable way of dealing with all issues. I’m afraid it’s baked into the materialist mindset that surrounds us and determines so much of how the modern West is designed and managed. The institutional Church is caught up in it, too, most regrettably but probably inevitably, since it’s run by thoroughly modern men.

    // I can’t know what another is actually thinking. I couldn’t be certain that someone didn’t mistakenly feel like they were a burden and that this might unreasonably sway their view. Nor could I be sure that there were sufficient safeguards in place to prevent the abuse of any system. //

    Too many systems, too many controls, too many laws and regulations, too much managing of human beings as though they were lab animals (and too much managing of lab animals as though they were inherently disposable objects, but that’s another topic). Our death is as natural as our life, and the state has no business trying to control it. Quentin’s question – “ I fear that I will feel guilty at taking so much, and, by then, contributing so little. How would you feel?” – is one that probably most of us ask, because we’re taught to ask it, by all the propaganda arms of this materialist culture, most intensely by government itself, which, while spending our money like a drunken sailor, persistently rationalizes its improvidence with the familiar “Never mind the quality, feel the width”.

  7. ignatius says:

    Take your own life if you must but do not ask the State, or your family, to collude with you. I have sat on the other end of the phone with people, people in the process of suicide yet not wishing to die alone. Suicide is forbidden for good reason but like all other sin it is forgiveable..”Father forgive them for the do not know what they do”
    Most likely I hold strong views on this subject because I have known near suicidal despair myself and I have come across it many times in others during the course of my time working for Samaritans or in the context of Prison Chaplaincy. Suicidal ideation is to be acknowledged but then resisted not encouraged. Yes there is the problem of intractable illness and also the problem of the act itself in that successful committing of suicide is not as easy to accomplish from a practical perspective as one might think; failed hangings or overdoses for instance. Catholics are asked to consider a good death as their aim, which means endurance and submission to the fullness of life, I guess this involves guts and trust. As to not wanting to be a nuisance to others…I think this is is at root the carefully masked excuse of pride.

  8. galerimo says:

    As the sun was setting one Wednesday evening on the Caribbean Island of Martinique there could hardly be found a more miserable man than one Afro-Caribbean, Auguste Cibaris.

    He was in jail, in the town of St Pierre. At 8.03am the following morning, the island’s volcano, Mount Pelee, erupted and killed 30,000 people.

    His cell was a dark, damp underground cave hewn out of stone, somehow it protected him from the pyroclastic cloud that killed everyone else. He had been awaiting his execution

    – at sunrise, on that day, no one in the town of St Pierre could have been more certain of their death than Auguste, but he was the sole survivor.

    A moment in history that illustrates how uncertain is death’s arrival.

    It seems part of the definition of being human that, while we know we will die with absolute certainty we cannot know, when. And so, to assert any control would be meaningless.

    We do have control over the dying process, we can make it as comfortable as possible and support the dying with love and kindness. Dying is part of our humanity.

    But to seek to alleviate suffering by killing the sufferer or aiding them to kill themselves is an attempt to try to exercise a control that we simply do not have.

    At the very least, it is inhuman.

    Furthermore, there is striking imbalance between campaigning for voluntary assisted dying when there remains a great need for palliative beds. These are in short supply here.

    Palliation has made great strides forward in recent years and I feel, should have more prominence in the current discussion around VAD in the wider community.

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